Jesus Christ is greater. Christ is a prophet greater than Moses. Christ is a greater priest than Melchizedek. And Christ is a king greater than David. In writing of Jesus Christ’s kingly role, Calvin reminded “the reader that its nature is spiritual; because it is from thence we learn its efficacy, the benefits it confers, its whole power and eternity.” This kingly role is “twofold”: “the one pertains to the whole body of the Church, the other is proper to each member.” Jesus Christ rules over the church as a whole, and He rules over each individual Christian. His kingly role is prophesied in the Old Testament and clearly affirmed in the New Testament.
Old Testament Indications
Although the office of king existed among other people groups, the Israelites originally had no king coming out of Egypt. Nor did they have a king when they first entered the land. God was supposed to be their leader. The people of Israel, however, wanted to be like the other nations. They rejected Samuel’s leadership, saying, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). This led to the appointment of Saul as king. As king, Saul was supposed to lead the people and protect the people (1 Samuel 8:20), but he failed to lead God’s people or obey God’s commands. Therefore, God rejected him as king (1 Samuel 15:23). Following Saul, David ruled over the people of Israel. David was a great king, although his life and reign were marked by several serious sins. Solomon, like his father, was a great king whose reign was tarnished by greed and lust. Other kings would come and go, but David and Solomon stood as two of the greatest kings in Israel’s history.
While David and Solomon were great kings, there were clear indications that a greater king would one day arrive. In 2 Samuel 7, God made this promise to David through the prophet Nathan: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (vs. 12-16). One day an everlasting throne in an everlasting kingdom would be filled by one of David’s descendants. Similarly, Isaiah had prophesied of a great coming king. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7). Thus, the foundations for a greater king were laid in the Old Testament. It was not until the New Testament, however, that the king who would be greater than David is clearly revealed.
New Testament Affirmations
As the kings of the Old Testament continued to disobey the commands of God and disappoint the people of God, there was a growing hope for a righteous ruler who would reign over God’s people. This hope would be realized in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself acknowledged His kingship. Listen to this exchange between Jesus and Pilate: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice’” (John 18:26-27). Jesus claimed to have a kingdom from another world, and Jesus indicated Pilate was right to call Him a king. Later, Paul called Jesus “king of kings” (1 Timothy 6:15) in his letter to Timothy. Willem VanGemerem explained the importance of this term: “The phrase ‘King of kings’ attributed to Jesus (1 Tm 6:15) is a Hebraism meaning supreme or greatest king.” As King, Jesus rules over creation, the church, and individual Christians in a spiritual sense in the present (as Calvin emphasized) and a physical sense in the future.
So what does this mean for Christians today? What are the implications of the kingly ministry of Jesus Christ? Let me suggest several practical implications of Jesus Christ’s work as a king of kings:
1. We Trust His Sovereign Rule
Christ is ruling over creation; He is sovereign. There is nothing that occurs without Him causing or permitting it to happen. Paul said He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), which means He is in control and we can trust Him. Christians recognize the sovereignty of God displayed in the reign of Christ, and they trust Him with their life. When things go well, we know He is reigning. When things do not go well, we know He is reigning and will use those circumstances to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29). The sovereign rule of Christ gives us peace and allows us to trust Him in the good times as well as the difficult times.
2. We Submit to His Divine Lordship
Christians also have a responsibility to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord. Indeed, Christ exercises His kingship today through the church and individual Christians. Erickson wrote, “And wherever believers today are following the lordship of Christ, the Savior is exercising his ruling or kingly function.” By submitting to Christ as Lord, Christians are recognizing Christ’s kingship and submitting to His righteous rule in their own lives. By submitting to Christ as Lord, the church and its leaders are recognizing Christ’s kingship and submitting to His righteous rule over His body, the church.
3. We Anticipate His Coming Kingdom
Regardless of which eschatological position one holds, there is hope of a future kingdom where the “establishment and acknowledgment” of the rule of Christ “will be perfect, the hidden forces of the kingdom will stand revealed, and the spiritual rule of Christ will find its consummation in a visible and majestic reign.” Calvin said, “In fine, let each of us, when he hears that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, be roused by the thought to entertain the hope of a better life, and to expect that as it is now protected by the hand of Christ, so it will be fully realized in a future life.” As Christians, we look forward to the perfection or consummation of Christ’s reign, when sin will be defeated and we will enjoy the presence of God forever.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008), 2.15.3.
Willem A. VanGemeren, “King, Kingship,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, edited by Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1988), 1264.
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 787.
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1938), 409.
Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.3.